Common Carrier, one who undertakes for compensation to carry goods from place to place for all who see fit to employ him. Of this class are proprietors of stage coaches, owners of vessels, railroad and express companies, and also wagoners and others, who, either on particular routes or as they may be directed, hold themselves out as carriers for the public indifferently. Persons who thus become general carriers assume peculiar ob-ligations, and are subjected by the law to responsibilities from which mere private carriers, or those who only undertake to carry on particular occasions or for certain persons, are exempt. A common carrier is considered as in a public employment, and he is bound to carry without discrimination for all who may offer to employ him, and is liable for a refusal so to do. His business may be the transportation of all kinds of movable property, or it may be restricted to particular kinds or descriptions; or he may carry movables generally, but exclude particular articles the carriage of which would be peculiarly inconvenient or extra-hazardous to persons or property carried, such for instance as nitro-glycerine; and where the business is thus restricted, the public cannot insist upon an obligation to carry beyond what has been voluntarily assumed. (23 Vermont Rep., 186.) The liability of the carrier is to carry safely, and to deliver within a reasonable time; and he is said in general terms to be an insurer against all loss or damage to the property carried, except such as may occur by the act of God or of the public enemy.
A loss by lightning, tempest, the perils of the sea, or any inevitable accident which human care and foresight would not have guarded against, he is not responsible for; but he must respond to the owner for fires occurring by negligence, whether of himself or his servants, or of third persons; for injuries through defects of machinery and vehicles; for losses by collisions, thefts, embezzlements; and for those occurring in consequence of unreasonable delay in carriage or delivery. If, however, he be plundered by the public enemy without his fault, or robbed by pirates, he is excused. But in any case where the carrier relies upon matter of excuse, he will nevertheless be held responsible if his own act or default concurred in producing the injury. (12 Maryland Rep., 9; 30 New York Rep., 630; 41 Penn. State Rep., 378.) A carrier may contract with his employer for a limitation of his common-law liability (6 Howard, 344), and this is very often done by provisions inserted in the bill of lading or other corresponding instrument; but he cannot impose restrictions by his own act merely, and it has accordingly been held that notices posted at his office or other place of business that he would not be responsible beyond a specified amount, or for losses caused by particular perils, were of no force unless it could be shown that they were brought home to the knowledge of the consignor, and that he assented thereto. (19 Wendell, 234, 251.) Notices, however, prescribing reasonable regulations for the conduct of the business, are not regarded as limitations of liability, and the consignor must conform to them, as he must also to the general regulations established by custom, and which, being generally understood, are supposed to be known by every one having transactions which would come within them.
A common regulation is one requiring the nature or value of the property offered for carriage to be stated, and limiting the liability of the carrier to the value actually stated, where untruthful information has been given. It is a disputed point how far a common carrier may contract for exemption from responsibility for losses caused by his own negligence. In some cases it has been held that certain new kinds of business from their very nature imposed certain restrictions; as, for instance, the transportation of live cattle, which are always understood to be accompanied by the owner or his servant, whose charge and supervision are inconsistent with the unlimited liability of the carrier as insurer, and must be understood to modify it accordingly. (21 Michigan Rep., 165.) Limitations upon the carrier's liability are sometimes imposed by statute; as in the case of the act of congress of March 3,1851, which exempts the masters and owners of vessels from liability for losses by fires happening without their design or neglect, and for the loss of certain valuable articles not made known to them and entered truly in the bill of lading. - The character of delivery to be made by the carrier will depend upon the nature and usages of the business and modes of conveyance.
A wagon will be expected to deliver at the consignee's place of business; but in the case of goods transported by railroad, the consignee is expected to receive them at the warehouse of the railroad company, unless the company adds to its ordinary business that of draymen also. By some courts it is held that the responsibility of a railroad company as common carriers ceases as soon as the goods are received at the point of destination and placed in their warehouse; while others hold that it continues until the consignee has been notified of the receipt of the goods, and has had reasonable time to take them away; after which time, if they remain in warehouse, the company is no longer insurer, but liable like other warehousemen for negligence. A carrier is entitled of right to demand payment of his charges in advance; but if he does not do so, he has a lien therefor on the goods carried, and also for any advances which may have been made by him in payment of the charges of other carriers over whose lines the goods have come to him.
In England, where a railroad company receives goods to be carried over a connecting line and gives receipt accordingly, it is held liable as carrier to the point of ultimate destination (8 Meeson and Welsby, 421); but this doctrine is rejected in America, and it is held liable to the extent of its own route only and for safe and prompt delivery to the next carrier, unless by contract, express or implied, it has assumed a further liability. (6 Hill, 157; 18 Vermont Rep., 140; 22. Conn. Rep., 1.) The responsibility of the carrier begins as soon as the goods are delivered to him for carriage, unless they are retained for the convenience of the owner, or awaiting his orders. - Common carriers of persons are those who hold themselves out as carriers for hire of such as may offer, and who thereby become bound to carry all who offer. Their undertaking is to furnish suitable vehicles and to carry with reasonable despatch and without negligence. They are not, however, insurers for the safety of their passengers, but are held to the highest degree of care and vigilance, and must supply themselves with the most approved appliances for the conduct of their business.
An injury through defect of machinery renders the carrier liable, unless the defect was one which no degree of watchfulness on his part would enable him to detect and guard against. The negligence of the carrier's agent or servant is his own negligence; but he is not liable for the servant's intentional wrongs, except where they are perpetrated in the exercise of an authority which the carrier has conferred, and on his behalf; as, for example, when a railroad conductor thrusts a passenger from the cars to his injury on a wrongful charge of non-payment of fare. (See Master and Servant.) Where, however, the injury occurs through the concurring negligence of the carrier and the passenger, the former is not liable, as the law will not undertake to apportion the responsibility in such cases. But if the want of prudent conduct on the part of the passenger is in consequence of fright or alarm caused by the carrier's negligence, he cannot excuse himself on that ground. The common law does not make a carrier liable civilly for a death caused by his negligence; but this has been regarded as a serious defect, and now by Lord Campbell's act (9 and 10 Victoria, ch. 93), and by statutes in the United States, all persons by whose wrongful act, neglect, or default a death is caused, are made liable to the payment of a pecuniary compensation for the benefit of the family or next of kin.
An injury to a passenger while he is on the carrier's vehicle in the proper place for carriage is prima facie through the carrier's negligence. The carrier may, however, establish reasonable rules and regulations for the management of his business, which passengers must observe at their peril, and may eject from his conveyance any who refuse to comply; and the reasonableness of such rules and regulations is a mixed question of law and fact, except where they are so palpably improper as to be void on their face. Every passenger has a right to take with him reasonable baggage and money for his journey, and for these the carrier is liable as insurer to the same extent as any carrier of goods. What is baggage and what a reasonable amount will depend upon the nature and extent of the journey, and upon the passenger's condition and circumstances in life. Such articles of clothing and personal convenience as are usually taken on going abroad, a watch and common articles of personal ornament, would be included, but not articles taken in connection with the passenger's business, or money beyond what might in prudence be provided for the contingencies of the journey.
If, however, the carrier is accustomed to take with his passengers other goods besides their baggage, for a compensation to be paid him, he assumes as to such goods all the responsibilities of a common carrier of goods, and consequently may be liable for a loss thereof, though occasioned by such circumstances as would excuse him from liability to the passenger for a personal injury. The carrier may always demand his compensation in advance; but if he fails to do so, the non-payment prior to an injury will not excuse him from liability.